After investigating the recent foodborne illness outbreak at St. Vincent's Health Care, RiverStone Health is now suggesting that the cause is a common virus called norovirus.
Norovirus is a contagious illness that first begins with food and can be transmitted in a variety of ways, including in air, water, or on surfaces.
Clark Snyder is one of the employees at RiverStone Health who has been involved in the investigation, which he said is centered around Great Harvest Bread Co. on Poly Drive.
"On Friday, we got a report from St. Vincent's indicating that they have several staff sick from a meal that was catered by Great Harvest on Poly," Snyder said.
According to an anonymous employee at St. Vincent's, the meal was brought in to celebrate Caregivers Appreciation Week. Snyder said that so far, nothing in their investigation directly puts the local bakery at fault.
"We have not found a source that indicates that it came from Great Harvest, but we are continuing to do an investigation," Snyder said. "Sometimes with these outbreaks, you're not going to find a source."
Another event with food from Great Harvest had a similar result last week. An event on Wednesday at the Billings Public Library hosted by HomeFront also catered from the bakery, and according to HomeFront spokesperson Patti Webster in an email to MTN, they also had several attendees who wound up sick.
Norovirus is contagious, and Snyder said that since the first day, the number of infected has increased from 80 to about 100.
"Right now, we're trying to mitigate any further illness around our community," Snyder said. "It's just a highly contagious virus. People need to take it seriously and take all of the precautions that they can."
MTN did make contact with the manager at the Great Harvest on Poly Drive, who is emotional about the situation and declined an on-camera interview Monday. The bakery did release the statement below on their Facebook page.
The restaurant remained open on Monday, but were not allowed to serve any of the food that were involved in the catering incidents per RiverStone's ruling. Snyder and his team have also suggested a deep clean for the entire establishment.
Snyder said that while the situation is a difficult one, the bakery has been professional and honest about wanting to resolve the issue.
"They've been really cooperative and easy to work with," Snyder said. "They understand we have a job to do and that is really helpful with this sort of thing."
Here's the full statement from Great Harvest:
"This past Wednesday we provided a large catering order, from the Poly Drive location, to StVs as part of their celebrations for caregivers. Unfortunately, several days later we received a call from the health department that people have become sick from something that was provided by us or another caterer. As you can imagine we are devastated by this and praying that the cause is not linked to our product. We are working closely with the health department as they look into the caterers that provided food this week. We've followed all of their instructions including sanitizing the bakery several times with a bleach solution and we have stopped using any food items that could have been contaminated. We have no reported incidents related to in store dining.
"In 18 years of business we have never had a single report of sickness and are extremely saddened that this has happened. We feel so sorry for anyone who has been impacted. The health department had visited less than 2 weeks ago for their routine inspection and we passed successfully, as we always do. We feel confident we can get through this and appreciate your continued support and understanding as we resolve this unfortunate situation."